As an engineer, the ability to produce a clean and clear mix on command is both challenging and necessary. Even if your goal isn’t to become a professional engineer, having the right skills in production can be useful in a number of ways.
Read on to learn 5 useful steps to take in order to produce cleaner sounding music like the pro’s!
Gain staging is the act of ensuring that the levels of all instruments and vocals recorded in a session are of similar level and don’t differ too drastically.
If you create this “baseline” for the signal of each track, then mixing will become much easier. This is because gain staging allows for more headroom in each track and gives a similar starting point in terms of volume.
Volume mixing is easily the most underrated step and in reality, most of what makes a great mix comes from this step. That is why it is important to create a great mix from the start of the process using volume faders alone.
Most of the defining qualities of a song come from the way an engineer choses to balance the individual tracks together, how deep the bass should sound, how close the drums should sound, and many more factors coming from how one chooses to level out the volume of tracks in a mix.
This next step is less of a “step” and more of a “suggestion” and that is because a lot of panning work is done at the artist’s discretion. While it’s true that panning choices are often artistic, panning can also be used tactically to create a deeper, more separated sounding final product.
Oftentimes, engineers will pan out certain instruments in different spatial zones in order to prevent clashing with other instruments and create a more sophisticated and fuller sound.
The goal of creating space using frequency separation is to give each individual instrument its own place in the mix using EQ. This can be a useful tool and nearly essential in mixes that are full of instruments that clash in certain areas of the frequency spectrum. Beware not to add too much processing to the individual signal chains after creating space as certain forms of processing will change the timbre of the instrument, undoing all the work you just did.
One of the more important aspects of mixing, listening to professionally mixed songs as a reference, is the best way to ensure your final product sounds great.
You can gather a lot of information about a mix just from listening, and when you compare your mix to the work of others, you begin to notice aspects that can be improved, leading to a better product overall. That’s why you should always listen to reference songs as often as you can when working on a mix.
When you find yourself working on music in your home studio and want to create a great reference track for your engineer, or perhaps you simply want to improve your skills as an engineer, try using these steps on your next project.
It can help you produce better sounding, more intelligible mixes from your music, leading to a more palatable listening experience for your audience.